Understanding the classifications of portable fire extinguishers is important for every building. Using the wrong kind could result in serious injury, or the inability to extinguish a fire. Check out this article to learn more about fire extinguisher components, size, placement and fuel classes to help choose the proper fire extinguisher for your workplace.
Many fires can be safely extinguished while small, and at their initial start by a trained operator using a portable fire extinguisher. All portable fire extinguishers must be approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Portable fire extinguishers manufactured in the U.S. are generally approved by FM Global (FM) and listed by Underwriters' Laboratories, Inc. (UL)
It is important that a buyer understands the classifications of the portable fire extinguisher in order to select the correct extinguisher. Using the wrong classification of fire extinguisher can result in serious injuries, and may not extinguish the fire. Portable fire extinguishers are classified by the type of fire fuel classification that the extinguisher is designed to extinguish. The portable fire extinguisher’s label will often show the designation letter for the extinguisher’s classification.
The classifications of fuels are as follows:
Class A Fuels include ordinary household combustible materials, such as: Wood, paper, rubber and most plastics.
Class B Fuels include flammable and combustible liquids, such as: Gasoline, gases, diesel, oil, thinner and alcohol.
Class C Fuels include energized electrical equipment such as: Electric panels, appliances, wiring, motors, and circuitry.
Class D Fuels include certain metals such as: Metal shavings, metal powders, metal flakes, magnesium, aluminum, titanium, potassium, zinc, lithium, and aluminum.
Class K Fuels include cooking oils often used in restaurants such as: Deep fryer oils, greases and fats.
Portable fire extinguishers are available with extinguishing agents that will extinguish more than one classification of fuel fire. The most common multi-classification extinguishers are BC and ABC type fire extinguishers. For example: An ABC type portable fire extinguisher is designed to extinguish Class A, B and C fires.
The components of a portable fire extinguisher include: Canister, handle, nozzle, pressure gage, safety pin, hose, and the extinguishing chemicals. Note: Carbon Dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishers are not equipped with a pressure gage. Portable fire extinguishers are manufactured with plastic components, metal components, and a variation of both materials. When fire extinguishers are to be placed in the workplace, the extinguisher will require inspections, maintenance, and servicing to meet The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standard 29 CFR 1910.157. Portable fire extinguishers manufactured with plastic canisters, nozzle, and handle assemblies may not be serviceable. Therefore, it is important that fire extinguishers intended for use in a workplace setting, be made with serviceable components, and that the extinguisher is capable of being recharged.
Portable fire extinguishers are manufactured in various sizes, and the size needed depends the specific location for the intended use. OSHA Standards state that extinguishers are to be selected and distributed based on the classes of anticipated workplace fires and on the size and degree of hazard which would affect their use. It is a good idea to use that standard as a guide for extinguishers intended for residential fire protection. Portable fire extinguishers are manufactured in many sizes, from one pound canisters to large industrial extinguishers mounted on a cart or trailer. Portable fire extinguishers smaller than a 5 pound rating may be suitable for mounting in a vehicle, or on equipment, but due to their size and limitations they may not be suitable for residential use, and are not recommended for the workplace, or industrial use.
Portable fire extinguishers should be placed in a readily assessable location, and near the area of intended use. A portable fire extinguisher should not be placed behind areas of combustibles or flammables that may pose a hazard when accessing. It is always a good idea to place portable fire extinguishers near exits and along routes of egress. The maximum distance between portable fire extinguishers can best be determined by using OSHA’s Standards, and following your local and state fire codes. This information is also a good guide to follow in residential fire protection. OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.157 relates the placement or maximum travel distances in relationship to the fuel classifications present. This will assist the purchaser in determining the number of portable fire extinguishers needed.
OSHA Standards on travel distance between portable fire extinguishers:
There are portable fire extinguishers available that are recommended for computers and electronics. These fire extinguishers are designed to extinguish a fire leaving little or no harmful residue that will damage a computer, stereo, or other electrical components. Portable fire extinguishers containing a Halon extinguishing agent, or a Class BC Carbon Dioxide portable fire extinguisher are recommended for computer, stereo, and other electrical component fires.
June 5, 2012
Author: Jary D Winstead
Work Safety Services, LLC.
This article provides general information, and is not intended to be personalized legal or medical advice; please consult with your own advisor and review local/state/federal regulatory guidelines and requirements if you have any questions.